Internet Freedom

15 August 2020

What am I talking about with this title? Internet Freedom is about our freedom when using technology and the Internet. More to the point, this is about what I have done on my journey until now.

I recall the old days when the Internet's worst privacy and tracking pitfalls were more or less harmless cookies to store login information and preferences for some, but not many, websites. Those days are for sure long gone, and I doubt we'll ever get them back again. We have all sorts of advanced tactics for tracking and identifying us on our computers, tablets, mobile devices, vehicles, wristwatches, household appliances, etc.

Unless we live entirely and totally off the grid, we're not going to be hidden from big and small companies and governments.

But we can do some things to limit our exposure and releasing too much personally identifiable information about ourselves. One thing that is easy to do, well, not really for most people. That is, don't share anything about yourself online. We can take this to varying degrees of comfort level for ourselves, of course.

I indeed share quite a bit of information online via this site of mine. I do attempt to keep most of it purposefully vague as much as I can, though.

What I will talk about briefly, though, is of some of the things I've done over the years to reduce my online presence and protect myself at the same time.

Delete social media. Remember that World War II saying, "Loose lips sink ships?" Well, it still holds today. The more you say or write, the more that can be used against you in all ways.

I have been on social media in the past but not for too long on most of them. Getting sick of them was rather quick for me, which helped me delete them with no regrets.

Use a Linux distribution. That's right, dump Windows and macOS. Both are proprietary platforms which are controlled by the company's that make them. They're even making it so people cannot do all of the things they used to do with the past OS. With Linux, the user is in complete control to see the source code, change it as it pleases them, and customize their experience.

I am running Arch Linux on a custom PC I built myself. I also installed Arch from scratch and installed the programs I wanted to run and nothing more. Setting up Arch Linux does require a few technical skills that most people no longer possess as we used to 20-25 years ago. The good news is that newbies to Linux can use another distribution based on Arch, and it's called ArcoLinux. It is Arch packaged together nicely with a standard installer and plenty of optional programs to add right out of the box that one might add on their own anyhow.

Run your email server. This one also requires a person to be tech-savvy. But it's not as hard as some might think it is to set up and get running. If you can do this, you won't have to worry about Google, Microsoft, or Apple reading your mail. You're in complete control of your messages this way.

Setup your meta-search engine. I recently set up a Searx Instance that queries all the big search engines and displays the results for you. In this sense, it acts as a search proxy so that the big search giants don't know who you are, where you are, or what your searches were. All they see is Searx making those queries. Plus, if you set up your instance of Searx, not using another person's instance, you are again in complete control of your meta-search engine server.

Another thing you can do is set up a Pi-Hole DNS server at home. Pi-Hole is a network-level ad blocker on steroids, which can also block trackers, social media, and other things that you may not want your devices to access.

Don't pay for VPN services. VPNs offer little to no privacy for users. The ads they put out are misleading at best and lying at the worst. All a VPN does is make you appear to be in another city or country then you are. They can't stop the search engines or websites you visit from tracking you. They all still create unique identifiers that follow you all around the Internet despite using a VPN. Plus, you're shelling out money for nothing and slowing down your Internet speeds at the same time.

Setup your own VPN and pair it with Pi-Hole. I did this years ago so that I can have the benefits of Pi-Hole when I'm mobile. I created the VPN and hosted it on my server and Pi-Hole, so I am in total control of that. I don't worry about much with this setup, and I'm not paying out money for anything on a commercial VPN.

Create your file server. I've also set up my cloud storage server so that I don't have to rely on Google, Amazon, Microsoft, or Apple for their services. Using NextCloud on my server allows me to control the server and the files I store on it. I can also access it anywhere I have an Internet connection, and it's secure with multi-factor authentication for added security.

Use Keepass for a password manager. LastPass and 1Password are excellent password managers, and I do trust their security. However, if you can do this yourself and avoid the subscription fees, why not? I use Keepass in conjunction with my NextCloud file server to sync my passwords across devices and locations just the same as the commercial password managers offer.

Yes, I know that most of these solutions are technical and require some knowledge and skills to setup. But if you're concerned about your privacy, freedoms and want to save some money, why not get the skills to do it. Learning new things is always a good thing, and where there is a will, there is away.

Get your Internet freedoms back as much as you can.